• Maria Nightingale

Mashiko & Nikko Waterfalls


It\’s my first weekend in Japan! (As a resident) So we decided to do some exploring. Like Dora the explorer, just without the talking monkey or the magic backpack – without a backpack at all. Mostly not even a map, I am becoming increasingly good at just nodding and pointing and sign language, most of the time you can get the jist of what is being said. 


Mashiko is not mentioned in tourism books which is a shame because it is such a cute little village and far from what people expect from Japan. Its a pottery village, I just realised i had not made that very clear. It was weird I almost felt like I was in  Italy, by the time we arrived it was lunchtime and we found a small quaint cafe, Set back a little from the street making a small courtyard which had outside seating, it served Italian-esque food as well as Italian-Japanese fusion food. Which of course came with soup of some sort. What is with that?

You can also create your own pottery there, however you do have to book so we did not get a chance this weekend. Although as I\’ve mentioned my cousin is coming over soon, so I think that could be a good activity to fill one of the many days she is here. (I hope she\’s not reading this, otherwise I\’ve just spoiled the surprise).

Mashiko is mostly known for its clay and their special way of making pottery, however they are also home to some beautiful forests and Lord Utsunomiya\’s graves. they are also well known for there festivals and I think it is such a shame more people don\’t know about it.

Now I\’ve mentioned Nikko before, however there are more than one attraction in Nikko; for such a small place it has a lot going on. This weekend we went to the Nikko\’s National Forest which is home to; beautiful landscapes, breathtaking waterfalls, Soba noodles and Bears. GRRR. Again this is not very far from Utsunomiya, we were still kind of jet lagged (yes, I\’m going to blame everything on that. Its not because I cba at all).

Saying that I\’m glad I went, from the train station we got at bus which took us to the top of the forest and the first of many waterfalls. Its about an hour and a half bus journey but totally worth it. At the top is also the bear forest, don\’t worry you wont be eaten, there is a fence. Although… there is a door and I saw small scouts go in, had there parents really had enough of them? Joking, I learnt that you can go in with the bears as long as you wear a \’bear bell\’. That\’s new, Americans take loaded guns and the Japanese take bells. I think I prefer the bell approach.

Japanese are obsessed with taking photos so there are plenty of good vantage points and lots of people with selfie sticks. For lunch we had the famous mountain vegetables with Soba noodles, theses are buckwheat noodles with vegetables – I\’m not sure what kind of vegetables – it tastes good though so I\’m not complaining. This was in a traditional restaurant so we sat of the floor which was the first for me, however I\’m am quite used to eating on our coffee table so there is not much difference. 

Helpful tips for travelling in Japan

  1. If you want to work out how far its going to take you to get to a place, the instinct is to write \’A to B\’ in the Google search bar. DON\’T! Unless you want to be put off by unrealistic times. For example Mito which is 1hr away from Utsunomiya by car, it says it will take you more like 4hrs by train. Instead go too, its especially for Japanese trains and in English and it will tell you that in actual fact you are 1.5hr away by train. it will also tell you which trains to get. 

  2. Take a notebook with you everywhere, with pen. English is not commonly spoken but writing down where you want to go or drawing sketches proves very fruitful.

  3. If you are visiting, buy a JR pass before you go, these are not for residents. if you don\’t except travelling is going to be ridiculously expensive. Buses are relatively cheap however any sort of train is typically more expensive then you would expect. The shinkansen is extortionate. They are all very reliable and prompt which is a breath of fresh air for people in England.  

  4. A Map is always useful; if you can find a map of the town you are staying in, in English, use it most maps have important places on them. Also if you know where you are going but not how to get there, you can point at your destination to tourist information and they can help with how to get there.

  5. Being able to walk that distance in the UK definitely doesn\’t mean you can do it in Japan. Japan is very hot most of the time and when it is there is little shade. While we were out at the weekend we told tourist information we would walk, they replied in the little English they knew \’Bus, you take bus from here to here\’, at first we just thought it was a misunderstanding but when we got outside and attempted the walk it was quite clear she had understood and thought we were idiots. 

Maria xx

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